How is gender relevant to social protection programmes? This paper by the Overseas Development Institute discusses the role of gender issues in social protection policies, programmes and strategies. Vulnerabilities to risk vary significantly by gender and shocks affect men and women differently. These differences need to be taken into account when developing social protection policies and programmes.
Social protection is defined as interventions to support communities, households and individuals prevent, manage and overcome risks and vulnerabilities. Risks can occur either at the individual or household level or at the community and international level. Risks can also be classified by gender, which refers to the socially determined roles and responsibilities of men and women. Risks are gender-specific when men and women are exposed to different risks, such as childbearing. Risks are gender-intensified when men and women experience the same risk differently. Based on this distinction, different responses to risks or risk management strategies can be implemented through state, market-based or informal mechanisms.
Social protection programmes impact differently on men and women, and may even increase inequalities. Women are likely to be excluded from most social protection interventions, as they target the formal sector where women are under-represented. This includes insurance, pensions and social legislation. In particular:
- Programmes vary in redistributing assets to women and in affecting labour incentives. Programmes that tackle women’s age-related and work-related vulnerabilities, like childcare, are very effective. Public works, unemployment insurance and tax policies are less relevant.
- Cash transfers are better at providing assets to women than employment schemes.
- Many programmes assume that resources are pooled equally within the household. However, transfers targeted at women usually have greater benefits for the household.
- Women take major responsibility for social protection at the household level, such as care of the elderly and children.
- Informal mechanisms like community networks are the main source of risk management for poor women.
- Access to benefits varies due to gender-specific time constraints and differences in labour force participation.
Social protection programmes need to recognise the differentiated impact of risks on men and women. Addressing gender issues in social protection involves:
- Improving access to social protection in the labour market and extending social insurance to the informal sector, where women are disproportionately represented. This requires changing employment policies and legislation, recognising the informal economy in formal economic analysis and mechanisms like transfers.
- Assisting women in informal social protection, like caring for relatives, by strengthening informal household and community level protection mechanisms. However, this should not increase the burden of work for women.
- Targeting based on gender to ensure that women receive benefits. This provides greater benefits to the household. Both the form of benefit (cash or kind) and the form of contribution (the timing, size and location) are important.
- Formalising the informal and thus increasing the likelihood of reaching poor women. These approaches, such as those by the Self-Employed Women’s Association (SEWA) provide examples of some of the most innovative and successful social protection mechanisms.
- Combining interventions to benefit women more, for instance, childcare and conditional transfers. These could be provided through formal-informal partnerships.
- Assessing the gender differentiated impact of programmes through gender-specific indicators.